Attempting Normal

Books by comics usually do not fill me with encouragement – I own a couple of George Carlin ones, and largely they seem like printed bits and one liners. This is all stuff I have seen him perform, just in book form. This is nice to have since I like the comedy, but it is decidedly not essential to own. Marc Maron is one of my favorite comics and podcast presences of course Attempting Normal thus is an enjoyable volume to read and have.  The question from a book review perspective is whether it is more.

The short answer to that question is, somewhat.  Attempting Normal is a collection of essays from Maron running the gamut from autobiographical to observational to absurdist sorts of musings.  Indeed the book is separated into two halves, “Attempting” and “Normal” along those lines.  “Attempting” is the more powerful of the two sections, comprised of essays mostly about his upbringing, Maron’s background in comedy and in dissecting his own relationships.  This is Maron at his best, mining darkness for comedy while still leaving it as darkness.  He is also not one to sugarcoat his own role in his personal dysfunction, most powerfully in “The First Marriage”

My first wife, Kim, was a nice woman.  I loved her.  I shouldn’t have married her.  I did it because I didn’t know how to break up with her.  I was too scared.  It was too comfortable.  She was a bit naive.  I was a bit out of my mind … I had grown to believe that I would never be happy but if I at least were married I could rest my chaos on a firm emotional mattress, that marriage would make things okay, normal-ish.  They weren’t.  I felt I was drowning in my bed.” (Page 18)

There is ownership there – an expression of pain and personal reckoning which makes this essay, and much of the first half more than just prepared bits.  Another touching essay is about how Maron became a fan of cats, and how it intertwined with the dissolution of his marriage and much of his career at that point.  This is all very much worth reading – and a display of the sort of humanity you associated with the best WTF work.

The second half, “Normal” is fine but less essential.  This DOES read like the sort of prepared bits which are things lifted from an act.  Not all of them are, but you do get a decent amount of the sort of things you might have read in Woody Allen’s Without Feathers or a somewhat edgier Dave Barry collection.  I liked the stuff about Whole Foods Market and Viagra, and can even forgive a couple of stories which were lifted and polished from podcast preambles.

Overall the book is generally funny – but the first half and the humanity it embodies, is so good that I sort of wished the rest of the book were like it.  Of course, that might mean I am a very depressed person – I don’t know.  Maron is one of the best comic voices working, and you can see him lay himself bare here at times – and it’s still funny, and in these moments, he is one of the best there is.  I just wish there were more of them.


Oh poor George Knightley. Well, not poor (almost all of the people we are dealing with here are some form affluent), but still.  My mind kept wandering to him as I lean over my keyboard to deal with Jane Austen’s Emma.  Certainly the titular heroine is as fully realized and sympathetic as any, and the entire book is told from her eyes and inside her head, and we’ll get to her soon enough.  But even early on, there is George Knightley, providing counsel and truthful good sense to Emma, all the while never getting to the point.  As someone who in his single days was often friendly to women while hoping they would divine my hopes, and saving me the inconvenience of actually putting the question out there.  It is trite and crass to just tell a man to “just grow a pair and go for it”, but it applies as well to an 1815 English twit as it does to any stammering Hugh Grant lead.

Of course, there is more, and this is Emma’s tale after all.  Jane Austen’s work is above all a droll comedy about the lives and loves of upper class twits, and the travails of female living in the nineteenth century.  Certainly the fact that these were twits was not lost on Austen herself – she noted before writing the novel that “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” (wiki citation).  Emma, t is described early as a smart, beautiful woman who has never been (and has resolved to never get) married, and she certainly does profile as the sort who does not make much of a rooting story.  She’s no underdog – she thinks more of her intelligence than the results seem to indicate, and she snuffs in on other people’s business.

But of course she sticks her nose in other people’s affairs.  Given her wealth, she is not wanting for a whole lot, and given some apparent devotion to her infirm father (well, I am not sure how infirm vs simply obsessed with disease) and spinsterdom, there is a lot of time that needs to be filled.  There is playing music, there is hosting neighbors and friends, there is doting on her nephews, and there is taking on a self-appointed Henry Higgins with a plain lady named Harriet Smith whom she takes under her wing.

Harriet seems nice enough, but in Georgian England upper-class twit standards she is no prize.  Her lineage is hard to trace, she is not especially well educated, and she is not especially wealthy.  She is not your first candidate to be set up, but of course this makes her more attractive to Emma.  Seemingly, Harriet catches the eye of Mr. Elton, the local vicar.  Emma of course, does all of the sort of intermediary things – scheduling sessions with her, Harriet and Mr. Elton, going walking, painting sessions and the like.  Mr. Elton seems more smitten with each meeting – and Emma feels that the Mr Elton and Harriet union is obviously going to happen, right?  It is certainly sufficient to steer her away from a farmer who has expressed great interest. (not worth her timber, no?)  Now – describing this situation it doesn’t require Nostradamus to identify the outcome here, and the possible misunderstanding that precipitates this.  I am not sure if Austen telegraphs this, or just that the story is so famous that I just knew it anyway (or that I saw Clueless).

Personally, this part of the novel sort of dragged – it takes a while for this misunderstanding to work itself out – more than the story needed, and personally it was a slog, even with the inevitable payoff.  However, if this is the weak point – it is really the setup for a gallery of other characters and situations.  This includes the arrival of Frank Churchill, the stepson of one of Emma’s old friends and her father’s old caretaker, and an affair or something which goes in another direction entirely.  It also includes Mr. Elton getting married to a wholly odious woman (although she is not really much more nosey and into other people’s business as Emma when you think of it, although far more cloying about it), as well as chatty Mrs. Bates and her niece Jane Fairfax.  Jane is alternately sickly, standoffish and rather sad – and some of this makes much more sense as a misunderstanding involving her gets cleared up.

All of this is fun stuff, not exactly an airport novel, but breezy once the story gets going.  Emma, once the shock of the Harriet incident has worn off, is on her way busying herself.  There is chemistry with Frank, perhaps, maybe, I don’t know.  Certainly all of this marinades inside Emma’s brain while she is watching out for Jane Fairfax and Harriet’s respective businesses.  This is where Austen’s method really starts to work.  Emma is so smart in some ways, and yet misunderstands so much as well.  But there is another layer, where maybe she doesn’t misunderstand, but sort of pushes the understanding into the place she wants to go.  Could she have figured out what would happen with Mr. Elton if she were not so vested in Harriet’s outcome?  It is hard not to get a sense of Emma running away from her own feelings – whether it be about Frank Churchill, George Knightley or anybody else – painting over them with layers and layers of busywork and concern on others’ affairs.  It’s the sort of thinly veiled desperation that you see in especially happy Facebook posts, Sex and the City hijinks, or (at least for me) your average Martha Stewart instructional program.

This part of Emma is touching and rather funny.  She has smarts, musical skills, looks – and whatnot, but such a holy fool about her own heart.  Of course it is impossible not to empathize with this.  Furthermore, when everybody can actually get their layers of emotional defenses pushed aside and get to the point, happiness is possible.  And that has not changed in the last 200 years.

Nada Columbus

“Nada” in Spanish means “nothing”.  “De Nada” is a term for “You’re welcome”.  The latter suggests hospitality, a welcoming environment.  The former, is well, you know.  I was curious about the inspiration for the Ohio Mexican restaurant’s title – why it was missing the preposition?  Was there some other inspiration?  Certainly “nothing” seemed appropriate after sampling the fare on opening night at its Arena District Columbus location.  When you check out the menu, it sure reads like a killer take on a tacqueria.  But alas, they were just words on a page.

Now the restaurant itself looked quite lovely.  The decor is nice, and the Arena District location will surely be a nice spot surrounding the Blue Jacket hockey games.  The bar was good – and my cocktail (I got a Caipinriha) was excellent, certainly indicative of why Brazilians swear by the stuff.  We were lucky enough to sneak onto the community table without a reservation.  It was noisy, as you’d expect for a first night – but certainly pleasant.  Seeing as we were out with proper babysitting help, this was promising.  And then, the food started.

Normally this is the point where I’d start to talk about the meal in chronological order.  That would work here, but frankly every dish – one after the other – just lacked ….  Actually, that previous sentence seems sufficient right there.  Now, I am no expert, but I have been to this neck of the woods frequently with my own family situation.  I have had meals which seemed inspired by the Hickory Farms catalog; I have had meals with people who complained that piquillo peppers were much too spicy, and I have eaten chili with cinnamon in it.  So maybe asking for explosion was just me being naive.  It sure seemed like I could taste the commerce compromises throughout, as if the executive chef peered over the ledge at true flavor and decided to back away because it won’t play in Central Ohio.  That is how you get :

  • An habanero-garlic salsa which was much more evocative of Italian Salad Dressing than any sort of habanero anything (not even sneaky building hot).
  • A chips and salsa trio where the most prominent flavor was of extremely oversalted fried FLOUR tortilla.
  • Tortilla soup with a thicker, “squash soup” sort of consistency. (which made the avacado garnish rather amusing)
  • Barbacoa (braised beef) Tacos: listed with pickled onions that had zero brininess
  • A shave ribeye and crema taco which tasted suspiciously like a steak and cheese.
  • Tacos coming mostly on flour tortillas (i shake my fist indignantly)

All of these dishes had the promise of boldness – but resulted in the sort of timidity I have come to expect in my travels in this part of the world.  Considering the tacos cost $6.50 a pop, I was grateful that the drink was good.  The service was nice and the management was pleasant.  But it would be nice to see a place like this take the leap and count on the smart consumers to join the ride.

An Inclusive College Football Playoff – Quarterfinals

With the first round done on campus, we go to the New Year’s Six Bowls to get you to the playoffs.  Click on the right links for the EAST, SOUTH, MIDWEST and WEST regions:

SOUTH REGIONAL FINALS – Peach Bowl – Atlanta, GA

Alabama 31, Michigan State 21: Behind 2 TJ Yeldon TD runs in the first quarter, Alabama raced out to a 21-7 lead at halftime, cruising to a 31-21 win.  Blake Sims threw for 342 yards as the Tide offense rolled up 490 yards against the stout Spartans D.  Connor Cook threw for 329 yards in a game where the Michigan State rushing attack was bottled up for just 75 yards.

EAST REGIONAL FINALS – Orange Bowl – Miami Gardens, FL

TCU 41, Florida State 34A crucial game tying pick-six in the 3rd quarter and a pounding running game led the Horned Frogs to a 41-34 win over the Seminoles and a berth in the semifinals.  For once, Florida State led at the half behind touchdown runs by Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams.  However, Jameis Winston’s 3rd down pass was brought to the house in the first series of the third quarter and that opened up the floodgates, as the Horned Frogs scored 17 of the next 20 points.  Trevone Boykin passed for 167 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 67 yards and another score.

WEST REGIONAL FINALS – Fiesta Bowl – Glendale, AZ

Oregon 31, Kansas State 24: Darren Carrington’s 17 yard pass from Marcus Mariota with 9:24 to go proved decisive as Oregon held off Kansas State 31-24.  K-State, looking for its second straight upset win after winning at Mississippi State in the regional semis, traded punches with the Ducks throughout this seesaw affair.  Jake Waters through for 347 yards for the Wildcats, 133 of them to Tyler Locket, helping make up for an anemic rushing attack who only mustered 16 yards against the Ducks front.  The Wildcat defense troubled Oregon throughout, holding the Ducks to a mere 309 yards.  However, the Ducks offense was picked up by the defense and special teams, which added a 66 yard punt return.

MIDWEST REGIONAL FINALS – Cotton Bowl – Arlington, VA

Ohio State 35, Baylor 28: Cardale Jones threw for 332 yards and 4 TDs, helping the Buckeyes build a 35-13 lead and withstand a furious rally by the Bears in the fourth quarter.  Devin Smith caught 5 passes for 116 yards and a TD for the Buckeyes.  Shock Linwood ran for 136 yards and 2 TDs for the Bears, whose season ends at 12-2.

2015 NBA Power Rankings Daily Note

I am sure you are dutifully clicking on the link up there to see the NBA Power Rankings.  You’ll notice now, that with 30+ games in the books, it made sense to start adding “recent results”, so we not only see who has played the best all season – but give some extra points for who is actually hot.  This way, the rankings are actually more like a true power ranking – the best of the moment and not just standings.

How do we do it?  Well, we calculate power rankings as normal, for both the whole season and a team’s last 25% of games.  (so right now a team’s last 7 or 8 games usually)  The whole season is counted as 2/3, and the last quarter is counted as 1/3.  At the end of the season this means that 2/3 of the result is based on all 82 games, and 1/3 is the last 21.  This obviously does not capture injury effects, but no systematic approach can.  The GRAND column gives you the spread.  So Portland, at +10.1, is on a neutral floor for one game a 19 point favorite over the #30 Timberwolves.  Anyway, some quick takeaways using recent form?

  • Portland has been the most consistent team this season
  • The Thunder have caught fire as the injury problems have receded.  They are merely 5-4 in that “25% stretch” but have the second best adjusted scoring margin in that time frame.  This vaults them to #6 despite the #14 overall body of work.
  • The recent results is a much smaller sample of course, but it shows the Grizz and Cavs have not played well recently.  They are clearly the two winning records with the most slippage, while the Thunder seem to show most upside.

Anyway, see how this rolls.

An Inclusive College Football Playoff – MIDWEST Semifinals

Last region before the quarters.  Click on links for South, East, West

Ohio State 69, Memphis 3

(Columbus, OH) – Cardale Jones threw for 411 yards and 5 TDs, and the Buckeyes scored 2 TD in the final 39 seconds of the first half en route to a 69-3 romp at Ohio Stadium.  The American champs from Memphis could never get anything going, only amassing 290 yards as the Buckeyes devoured the usually stout Tiger defense.  Ezekiel Elliott added 134 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries for the Buckeyes who move on to face Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.

Baylor 24, Ole Miss 21

(Waco, TX) – A Jaylen Walton fumble with 51 seconds to go ended Ole Miss’ chance at a stunning comeback as their 4th quarter rally fell short in their 24-21 loss to Baylor.  Bryce Petty threw for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns helping the Bears build up a 24-7 lead through three quarters.  However two late touchdowns, including a 34 yard strike from Bo Wallace to Cody Core, made it a 24-21 game with under two minutes to go.  After holding Baylor, Ole Miss had the ball at their own 28 and a minute left, but could not quite finish the job.

An Inclusive College Football Playoff – WEST Semifinals

Now, onto the West regionals of the mythical tournament.  The South and East regionals are here.

Oregon 36, Northern Illinois 17

(Eugene, OR) – Marcus Mariots threw 3 touchdown passes to cap a 21 for 24 for 241 yard day.  The Ducks defense held up their end forcing two interceptions of Drew Hare.  The first pick set up Oregon’s second touchdown in the first quarter, securing a 17-0 lead that the Ducks would not relinquish.  On a rainy day where Oregon’s usual fireworks were grounded to a mere 361 yards (120 on the ground), the Heisman winner and the Ducks stout defense carried the day.

Kansas State 48, Mississippi State 13

(Starkville, MS) – Jake Waters threw for 303 yards and 4 touchdowns, adding another on the ground as Kansas State became the first lower seed to win in this tournament, in a 48-13 romp over Mississippi State.  Tyler Lockett caught touchdowns of 32 and 5 yards as the Wildcats raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead and they were never threatened after that.  Dak Prescott’s dual threat was stymied as he was sacked 7 times and the Bulldogs were held to a paltry 2.3 yards per carry.  Kansas State will play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl for West Supremacy.


An Inclusive College Football Playoff – EAST Semifinals

Now, onto the East regionals of the mythical tournament.  The South regionals are here.

Florida State 45,  Marshall 42

(Tallahassee, FL) – Stop me if you heard this, but Florida State was in trouble again.  Rakeem Cato and the Marshall Thundering Herd were not intimidated entering Doak Campbell Stadium, and when Justin Haig kicked a 26 yard FG to start the 3rd quarter, Marshall had a 24-14 lead.  However, Florida State came back again behind three second half touchdown passes from Jameis Winston.  Winston threw for 252 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Delvin Cook ran for 131 yards.  People keep wondering when the luck will run out, but Florida State survives for now.

TCU 26, Boise State 6

(Fort Worth, TX) – Aaron Green’s 43 yard run early in the 3rd quarter gave TCU a lead they would not relinquish as they strangled the Boise State offense 26-6.  Boise State, in a rainy Fort Worth, was able to stay with the Horned Frogs for a half, emerging with a 3-2 lead against the highest scoring team in the country.  However, the offense could not establish balance with a paltry 65 yards rushing.  Two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter sealed things.  TCU plays Florida State in Miami for the East finals.


An Inclusive College Football Playoff – SOUTH Semifinals

Expounding on the idea of an inclusive playoff more in line with what we’d expect a real sport to do, how would the tournament itself actually play out?  Well, let’s tease it out.  Suppose we keep the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl as the national semifinals?  For the regions, use the other “Big Six”.  EAST: Orange Bowl, SOUTH: Peach Bowl, MIDWEST: Cotton Bowl, WEST: Fiesta Bowl.  For the first round games, we use campus sites.  We’ll use WhatifSports simulations using today’s weather forecasts for the sites.

Alabama 52, Georgia Southern 0

(Tuscaloosa, AL) This game was over quickly as Alabama used a 21 point 2nd quarter to take a 28 point lead, too big a mountain for the run oriented Eagles to transcend.  Alabama’s defense held the Sun Belt champs to a mere 223 yards.  Meanwhile Blake Sims, as part of his 5 touchdown day, connected with Amare Cooper 8 times for 147 yards.

Michigan State 28, Georgia Tech 14

(East Lansing, MI) Jeremy Langford ran for 160 yards and 2 scores on 29 carries while Michigan State piled up 535 yards of offense in a 28-14 win over Georgia Tech at Spartan Stadium.  The Michigan
State defense successfully bottled up Georgia Tech’s nationally reknown option game, as the Yellow Jackets could only muster 321 yards total offense.  An 89 yard drive ending with a Langford touchdown with 7 minutes to go in the 3rd gave the Spartans a 21-0 lead they would not relinquish.  Zack Laskey ran for 158 yards for Georgia Tech who saw their season end at 10-4.

An Inclusive College Football Playoff

Well, the latest rankings experiment has more or less concluded.  So I won’t beat that horse here.  But how would a 16 team tournament really look in a more practical world?  So as a fun cross check, I messed around a bit:

  • I aggregated three publicly available rankings.  Kenneth Massey and Jeff Sagarin‘s computer ratings along with the AP Poll.  Normalizing, racking and stacking them – you get something like this – I only rank the top contenders and the conference champs to get to a list of contenders for the national title (scale 0 to 1):
    1. Alabama – 1.000
    2. Oregon – 0.966
    3. TCU – 0.899
    4. Ohio State – 0.892
    5. Florida State – 0.877
    6. Baylor – 0.873
    7. Mississippi State – 0.830
    8. Michigan State – 0.815
    9. Ole Miss – 0.812
    10. Kansas State – 0.732
    11. Georgia – 0.731
    12. Georgia Tech – 0.694
    13. Arizona – 0.673
    14. Auburn – 0.663
    15. UCLA – 0.660
    16. Missouri – 0.635
    17. Arizona State – 0.617
    18. Wisconsin – 0.594
    19. Clemson – 0.594
    20. LSU – 0.578
    21. Boise State – 0.514
    22. Marshall – 0.423
    23. Memphis – 0.385
    24. Cincinnati – 0.369
    25. Central Florida – 0.348
    26. Northern Illinois – 0.329
    27. Georgia Southern – 0.308

So – what does a tournament look like?

  • Automatic Bids – Baylor gets the Big 12’s berth here due to a head-to-head breaking a 2-way tie – there is no reason for the Big 12 to have a championship game as a team which plays a full round robin.  A three way tie defers to the above standings (and why we listed the three AAC co-champs).
    • SEC: Alabama (1)
    • Pac-12: Oregon (2)
    • Big Ten: Ohio State (4)
    • ACC: Florida State (5)
    • Big 12: Baylor (6)
    • Mountain West: Boise State (21)
    • Conference USA: Marshall (22)
    • American: Memphis (23)
    • MAC: Northern Illinois (26)
    • Sun Belt: Georgia Southern (27)
  • At-Large Bids.  Easy here to go right down the line.  That said, #12 Georgia Tech gets the nod over #11 Georgia for the last playoff spot because of their recent head-to-head.
    • TCU (3)
    • Mississippi State (7)
    • Michigan State (8)
    • Ole Miss (9)
    • Kansas State (10)
    • Georgia Tech (12)
  • Apply the S-Curve
    • Alabama-Michigan State-Ole Miss-Georgia Southern
    • Oregon-Mississippi State-Kansas State-Northern Illinois
    • TCU-Baylor-Georgia Tech-Memphis
    • Ohio State-Florida State-Boise State-Marshall
  • Final Result (A plays B, C plays D in semis) – some small changes to balance the bracket and recognize some minor primacy for conference championships. TCU gets moved to a #2 seed with Baylor while FSU hops up to the #1 seed.  Also (as the NCAA might for basketball) we shuffle Georgia Tech and Ole Miss to eliminate a rematch possibility with Alabama.
    • Region A: SOUTH
      • Alabama v Georgia Southern
      • Michigan State v Georgia Tech
    • Region B: EAST
      • Florida State v Marshall
      • TCU v Boise State
    • Region C: WEST
      • Oregon v Northern Illinois
      • Mississippi State v Kansas State
    • Region D: MIDWEST
      • Ohio State v Memphis
      • Baylor v Ole Miss